City managers from Middletown, Monroe and Trenton provided community updates during a “Memos with the Managers” luncheon at The Windamere Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. The event was organized by the Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton. ERIC SCHWARTZBERG/STAFF

Butler County cities working to build on economic development successes

That’s according to city managers of each community, who said that trend is part of a general upswing being felt across the entire county and the region.

“Everybody’s doing well right now and it’s so much nicer for those of us who were here during the recession,” said Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins during a Thursday afternoon “Memo from the Managers” update at The Windamere, an event organized by the Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe & Trenton.

Another busy year for Middletown has included the first full year of NTE Energy operating a more than $600 million natural gas fired power plant, Kettering Health Network working to expand operations at the facility it opened in August 2018 and the completion of more than $90 million in building upgrades for Middletown schools.

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Other good news for the city included the recent completion by Opus Group of a more than 600,000-square-foot spec building with several tenants already vying for the site.

Smaller businesses planning to come to the city include Chipotle, Dunkin’ and Waffle House, Adkins said.

With unemployment down below 4 percent and an increase in companies, including Amazon, bringing thousands of jobs to the region, area cities have been faced with the challenge of how best to help companies fill available positions.

Those jobs represent, just in Middletown, about $750,000 per year in unrealized income tax, a sum that could go toward paving three extra streets per year in the city, Adkins said.

That’s one of the reasons why the city met with Butler County Regional Transit Authority and Premier Health and developed the I-75 WorkLink transit route, an experimental route that has been running for several months. The route connects the Dayton RTA hub through job locations in Middletown and Monroe before terminating at a park-and-ride on Tylersville Road in West Chester Twp.

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“The idea is if you can’t have people living in town who can handle these jobs, then we bring them in from Cincinnati and Dayton to work here and then head back home,” Adkins said.

The changes are being tried out ahead of a 2020 redesign to the city’s transit system, which Adkins said operates as “what is effectively a 1970s, 1980s transit system,” one that runs on a set schedule no matter how few people may be riding at a particular time.

Tackling such re-design will include a look at transit-only lanes in some areas and “micro-transit,” which is almost an on-demand style of transportation, Adkins said.

Monroe City Manager Bill Brock recounted his city’s success stories for the previous year, including the opening of Amazon’s fulifillment center this summer, a 1.3 million-square-foot facility projected to create more than 1,000 jobs, plus Kroger and U.K.-based Ocado partnering to start construction this summer on the nation’s first-ever high-tech customer fulfillment center, a 335,000-square-foot facility expected to create more than 400 jobs.

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“It’s just amazing to have that potential in this area,” Brock said. “We’re proud to have that kind of partnership with Kroger and Ocado going forward.”

That rapid growth has led Monroe to start a comprehensive plan, one that will garner community input as to what the city should be and how it can work to achieve growth, Brock said.

Handling economic growth also means working to deal with a byproduct of having millions more square feet of industrial sites: increased truck traffic.

Marcos Nichols, Trenton’s city manager since June, recounted several small businesses opening in the city, including music lessons and instruction school Keys to Your Dream, comic book shop Wonder Comics & More and nutritional shake bar Revive Juice Bar.

Nichols said the city will see Foundation Community Church relocate into a building formerly used a skating rink.

“It’s reinvigorating an underutilized property as well as opening up potential retail space on their West State Street location,” he said.

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